|Stories - Part Two: Why Do People Do What They Do?
Every day people get murdered, but most of them would not be the basis for a murder story. It needs the elements of who killed them, why they killed them, how they killed them, and above all, the motive and personality of the murderer. Shooting someone with a gun is less interesting than having killed the victim with some mysterious poison known only to a few experts.
Killing someone because the murderer wanted the victims money is less interesting than because the victim knew some dark secret of the murderer. In all, the more complex, the more unlikely, the more obscure, the more puzzling the situation, the more interesting it is.
Again, every day someone comes into a lot of money, falls in love, or makes important contributions to our knowledge. Yet most would be of passing interest to the world as far as their stories are concerned. It is not the event itself, but the impact of the event on those involved. A rich person winning the lottery is hardly worth a comment, yet a poor person whose life will be changed forever by winning the lottery, would present a good story idea.
When you tell a story you assume that the point of the story has some interest for the listener or reader. We are interested in things that give us information in some way. The information does not have to be useful. It is interesting to know that whales can sing, and their songs can be heard miles away. It is interesting to know that a certain famous person has been caught misbehaving herself with another famous person. One form of information is trivia, and the other is gossip. Both keep us in touch with the world at certain levels.
The sort of information we find interesting is a good indication of the sort of people we are. Information is a form of territory. If Fred knows the latest football score and Harry doesn't, then Fred is in a position to take the 'conversational initiative' and command the territory of football conversation. That is, he gets attention and respect by being knowledgeable. Having something to say allows us to approach others with that information, and so gives us a line of communication with others. An interesting person is one who has things to say that we want to listen to.
What do we want to listen to? Above all, we want to listen to nice things about ourselves. We also want to listen to nice things about things we like. We like to hear that our team has won. We like to hear that our friends are successful. We like to hear that our 'group' is respected. In all, we want to know that we are liked, and that those we want to accept us do accept us.
When we first hear the story of Red Riding Hood, we regard her as a 'friend'. We are worried when we hear she meets the wolf. When she arrives at her granny's house we know before she does that the wolf has eaten her granny up, but we can't help her. We are worried for her safety. We know the wolf's intentions, so are happy when the woodsman comes in and chops off the wolfs head. Our friend has been saved. Had the story been an anecdote, it might have gone something like this:
It is the 'out of the ordinary event' that makes a story. It gets embellished here and there and becomes a ready-made 'conversation'. A good raconteur will have many such stories to tell for any situation, and so can command attention.
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